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China’s tech companies back marriage equality

Alibaba's Weibo post

In response to the recent global outpouring of support for same-sex marriage equality legislation in the United States, some have turned their gaze on the eastern hemisphere and have begun to ask why this kind of liberalisation hasn’t gained traction here.

Tech in Asia staff member Valeri Inting posed the insightful question: “why are Asian tech companies so silent on [the issue of marriage equality] when we’ve always spoken out and reacted to other important news about the West? Are LGBT rights just not as pertinent a conversation in Asia?”

Initially I thought this was a no-brainer as I was pretty convinced that Chinese tech companies would largely be operating in a hostile environment and would more than likely be ready for self-censorship. What I discovered was actually quite surprising.

What has been the Chinese tech community’s response to the United States Supreme court ruling?

Just as many technological, social and cutural trends from the United states gain traction in China and see their local counterparts in the form of Google Glass clones, Tinder clones, and the emergence of China-US co-productions, the issue of marriage equality has not gone unnoticed by the big technology companies of China. In the aftermath of the US Supreme court ruling on June 26, Chinese social media has seen an outpouring of mostly-positive sentiment towards the issue coming from technology companies. Tech in Asia user Balkan: provided a list of prominent Chinese technology firms having provided public support for the movement on a mixture of platforms, from Sina Weibo – China’s Twitter-like service, to their homepages and even in-app. Tech in Asia independently verified the following postings from Alibaba and Xiaomi – two out of four of the most intriguing Chinese technology firms in existence – and a bizarre advertisement from smartphone vendor Meizu.

Alibaba’s Weibo post. The Chinese characters read ‘It begins with love.’

Xiaomi's post from twitter

Xiaomi’s post from Twitter.

private message

A private text message from Meizu entreating me to ‘make love not war’ and buy their new smartphone on Jun 30th.

Is there weight behind this sentiment? Or is this just bandwagoning?

A revealing look at some recent news items suggests that both the Chinese legal system and Chinese corporations are increasingly behaving in more liberal ways towards China’s homosexual citizens.

Just this month, Chinese ecommerce giant Alibaba and Chinese same-sex dating app Blued held a competition on China’s biggest ecommerce platform Taobao. The initiative, called “We Do”, sent seven same-sex couples on an all-expenses paid trip to Hollywood, California to get married. Though same-sex marriage is illegal in China, this event attracted significant media attention both within China and in the international press. This is not the first time an event like this has been conducted by a technology company in China, however: Groupon-style daily deals site Meituan held a similar contest back in 2013.

The blossoming of a range of LGBT-focused dating applications and websites in China, including Blued which at last count had 15 million registered users and has raised US$30 million as well as competitor Zank, certainly signals both increasing interest and acceptance on the part of the market and ever greater levels of tolerance from the Chinese government.

On the government front, even ambivalence is an improvement over earlier government policies. Homosexuality was illegal in China until 1997, and it was only removed from the Chinese Classification of Mental Disorders in 2001.

The Chinese government today largely follows what appears to be a fairly hands-off approach characterized by the popular Three Nos expression, “no approval, no disapproval, and no promotion.” This is likely due to longstanding cultural practices prevalent among a broad section of society. The importance of a traditional family structure and the emphasis on continuing one’s family line with children makes a homosexual lifestyle quite impractical from a traditional Chinese culture perspective. China has no religious objections to homosexuality, so its objections are mostly on cultural grounds.

Perhaps recent enthusiasm on the part of China’s tech community can be attributed to the fact that the most profitable section of consumers for companies like Xiaomi, Alibaba, and Tencent is young urbanites who are better connected, better educated and more cosmopolitan than previous generations. If Chinese consumption habits are anything to go by, there is significant demand for cultural products from Western Europe, North America, Japan and Korea. Indeed, if you follow smartphone sales in China, premium-priced Apple Corporation still remains the number one vendor in China, and the hardware vendor now considers China its second biggest market.

Apple is very much a part of the liberal landscape of Silicon Valley. It has a significant following amongst highly influential artists, musicians and designers and has built a business based on innovation, disruptive enabling technology and powerful consumer marketing. Many local companies like Xiaomi want to emulate the success of companies like Apple, Amazon and Google. In so doing, they will happily champion liberal causes like marriage equality if it means they can capture the same consumer demographic. The kinds of Chinese people who can afford often-overpriced cultural imports are the same kinds of people who are much more likely to be influenced by (and interested in) Western progressive political topics like marriage equality.

This post China’s tech companies back marriage equality appeared first on Tech in Asia.

Source:: China’s tech companies back marriage equality

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